The places of worship in Paris are some of its most popular attractions. From the famous Gothic Notre-Dame on the Île de la Cité and the Grande Mosque de Paris, to the lesser-known gems tucked away in unsuspecting places like The Saint Jean Baptiste Church of Belleville, the range of religious architecture in this cosmopolitan city is sublime.
Notre Dame is not only one of the most well-known cathedrals, but also one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. The building work for this masterpiece, located right in the heart of the city in the Ile de la Cite, first started in 1163 and it lasted over 170 years. The famous twin towers rise nearly 70 metres high, and entice millions of tourists each year. However, if it wasn’t for one French literary legend Victor Hugo and his best-selling book, then its breathtaking legacy may well have vanished forever, for the French Revolution and World War II brought about devastating defacement and destruction. It is free to visit the famous cathedral with audio guides available near the entrance.
The Grande Mosquée de Paris is the largest mosque in France located in the fifth arrondissement of the capital. It’s the second largest in Europe, and figures as the most beautiful of them all. One of the main reasons why people flock to visit this place of worship is because it is entwined with a fascinating historic legacy. The building was founded in 1926 after World War I as a sign of France’s gratitude to Muslim soldiers, as 100,000 from the colonies died fighting against Germany. The mosque was later assigned to Algeria in 1957 and is currently led by mufti Dalil Boubakeur. An incredible fact of French history that most people don’t know is that the Great Mosque of Paris sheltered Jews during the Holocaust and supplied them with Muslim identity certificates. Estimates suggest that 500 to 1,600 North African and European Jews were saved from Nazi persecution in this mosque.
Notre Dame is not the only Gothic masterpiece in this city. Tucked away from the tourists in the 19th arrondissement is the glorious church known as Église Saint-Jean Baptiste (The Saint Jean Baptiste Church of Belleville). The church was first built in 1548, before undergoing major renovation work in 1635. It is actually one of the oldest neo-Gothic churches of Paris, and definitely one of the most impressive, with its looming arches, gigantic spires and stained glass windows. Because it is located in a lesser-known neighbourhood, on the outer fringes of the tourist bustle, it doesn’t get many visitors other than locals. This has its benefits, as you can skip all the queues and, usually, have the eerily silent place all to yourself.
The Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île is a Catholic church located on Île Saint-Louis in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, brandishing a mix of baroque and classical style. The construction began in 1664, replacing an earlier church, which was built in 1622; though it wasn’t completed until 1726, at which point it was dedicated to St. Louis. As you marvel at this masterpiece, you’ll notice a curious bell tower houses a modern clock dangling perpendicular to the street, which dates back to 1741. Inside, you’ll see the church preserves works of art, including “The Supper at Emmaus” by Coypel (1746), “Annunciation” by Fra Angelico, and “St. Francis room” by Noël Hallé (18th century).
The Grande Synagogue de Paris, situated at 44 Rue de la Victoire in the 9th arrondissement, serves as the official seat of the chief rabbi of Paris. The building dates back to 1867, with the Synagogue inaugurated in 1874, and is capable of seating 1,800 people. The impressive architecture designed by Alfred-Philibert Aldrophe (1834–1895), who also built the Versailles Synagogue and that of Enghien-les-Bains, follows a classical style, albeit adorned with Byzantine frills. It’s the centre of the spiritual life of the Jewish community in the French capital, with group tours held in the morning from Monday to Friday.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky) is a Russian Orthodox cathedral church located at 12 Rue Daru in the 8th district of Paris. Its history dates back to 1861, making it the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in the whole of France. The story goes that it was built thanks to a gift of 200,000 francs from Tsar Alexander II, though the Cathedral has not been aligned with the Patriarch of Moscow since the violent Russian Revolution. An interesting fact is that Pablo Picasso married his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, here in 1918 with friends Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire. It was made a historical monument in 1983. Mass at 10:15am and vespers and matins at 6:00pm.
Église Saint-Sulpice is a Roman Catholic church in Paris, commandeering views over the rue Bonaparte, in the Odéon Quarter of the 6th arrondissement. It boasts its structure as the second largest church in the city, only slightly smaller than the famous Notre Dame cathedral. This building, the second church on the site, began its construction in 1646 before welcoming in the 18th century the elaborate Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice. The place was popularised by Dan Brown’s 2003 international bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, a novel that still brings swathes of tourists to Saint-Sulpice to this day.
The mosque of Omar Ibn Al Khattab is tucked away in an unsuspecting corner of the 11th arrondissement of Paris. It was built in the early 1980s, and whilst it may be smaller than the grand mosques that tower over the cities of Lyon, Strasbourg, and of course Paris, it’s a local favourite in the French capital. Sometimes the Grand Mosque of Paris is quite busy, so this mosque offers a cosier place of worship. The interior design is typical of Islamic culture too, with gorgeous carpets and proud columns brandishing more books than you could possibly have the time to read.